A moment of curious kinship passed between them, almost going unspoken. They were being exiled to the same place, after all. Their eyes met in that moment, and the foundations of something like a reluctant friendship almost bloomed between them.

It was broken when Ryken walked away.

'I still don't like you.'

'Hades Hive will
not survive the first week.'

The man speaking is ancient, and he looks every hour of his age. What keeps him on his feet is a mixture of minimal rejuvenat chem-surgeries, crude bionics, and a faith in the Emperor founded in hatred for the enemies of Man.

I liked him the moment my visor's targeting reticules locked onto him. Both piety and hate echo in his every word.

He should not hold rank here - not to the degree he does. He is merely a commissar in the Imperial Guard, and such a title does not tend to make generals, colonels, Astartes captains and Chapter Masters remain in polite silence when it comes to tactical planning. Yet to the humans at this war council, and the citizens of Armageddon, he is the Old Man, a beloved hero of the Second War fifty-seven years ago.

Not just a hero.

His name is Sebastian Yarrick. Even we Astartes must respect that name.

And when he tells us all that Hades Hive will be destroyed within a matter of days, a hundred Imperial commanders, human and Astartes alike, hang on his every word.

I am one of them. This will be my first true command.

Commissar Sebastian Yarrick leans over the edge of a hololithic display table. With his remaining hand - the other arm is nothing but a stump - he keys in coordinates on the numeric datapad, and the hololith projection of Hades Hive widens with flickering impatience to display both of the planet's hemispheres in insignificant detail.

The Old Man, a gaunt and wizened human of sharp features and skeletally- obvious facial bones, gestures to the blip on the map that represents Hades Hive and its surrounding territories. Wastelands, in the main.

'Six decades ago,' he says, 'the Great Enemy met his defeat at Hades. Our defence here was what won us that war.'

There are general murmurs of assent. The commissar's voice carries around the expansive chamber through floating skull drones equipped with vox-speakers where their jaws had once been.

I am surrounded by the familiar hum of active power armour, though the scents and faces that meet my eyes are new to me. Standing to my left at a respectful distance, his face raggedly proud around extensive bionics, is Chapter Master Seth of the Flesh Tearers - known to his men as the Guardian of the Rage. He smells of sacred weapon oils, his primarch's potent blood running beneath his weathered skin, and the spicy, unwholesome reptilian scent of the lizard predator-kings that stalk the jungles of his home world. Seth is flanked by his own officers, each one bareheaded and with faces as pitted and cracked as their master's. Whatever wars have occupied the Flesh Tearers in recent decades, the conflicts have not been kind to them.

To my left, my liege Helbrecht stands resplendent in his battle armour of black and bronze. Bayard, the Emperor's Champion, is by his side. Both rest their helmets on the table's surface, the stern helms distorting the edge of the hololithic display, and give their full attention to the ancient commissar.

I cross my arms over my chest and do the same.

'Why?' someone asks. Their voice is low, too low to be human, and carries over the chamber without the need of vox-amplification. A hundred heads turn to regard an Astartes in the bright red-orange of a lesser Chapter, one unknown to me. He steps forward, leaning his knuckles on the table, facing Yarrick from almost twenty metres distance.

'We recognise Brother-Captain Amaras,' an Imperial herald announces from his position at Yarrick's side, smoothing the formal blue robes of his office. He bangs the butt of his staff on the ground three times. 'Commander of the Angels of Fire.'

Amaras nods in thanks, and fixes Yarrick with his unblinking gaze.

'Why would the greenskin warlord simply annihilate the greatest battlefield of the last war? Surely our forces should muster at Hades and stand ready to defend against the largest assault.'

Murmurs of agreement ripple throughout the gathered commanders. Emboldened, Amaras smiles at Yarrick.

are the Emperor's Chosen, mortal. We are His Angels of Death. We have centuries of battle experience compared to these human commanders at your side.'

'No,' another voice replies. This one is distorted into a vox-born snarl, filtered through a helm's speakers. I swallow as the herald bangs the staff another three times.

I had not realised I'd spoken out loud.

'We recognise Brother-Chaplain Grimaldus,' he calls out. 'Reclusiarch of the Black Templars.'

Grimaldus shook his
head at the gathered commanders. Over a hundred, human and Astartes, all standing around the huge table in this converted auditorium once used for whatever dreary theatre performances occurred on a manufactory world. A riot of colours, heraldry, symbols of unity, varied uniforms, regimental designations and iconography. General Kurov stood at the commissar's shoulder, deferring to the Old Man in all things.

'The xenos do not think as we do,' Grimaldus said. 'The greenskins do not come to Armageddon for vengeance, or to seek to bleed us for the defeats they have suffered at Imperial hands in the past. They come for the pleasure of violence.'

Yarrick, a skeleton wreathed in pale flesh and a dark uniform, watched the knight in silence. Amaras pounded his fist onto the table and pointed at the Templar. For a moment of deathly calm, Grimaldus considered drawing his pistol and slaying him where he stood.

'That lends credence to ray belief,' Amaras almost snarled.

'Not at all. Have you inspected what remains of Hades Hive? It is a ruin. There is nothing to fight over, nothing to defend. The Great Enemy knows this. He will be aware that Imperial forces will put up no more than a token resistance here, and fall back to defend hives that are still worth defending. It is likely the warlord will obliterate Hades from orbit, rather than seek to take it.'

'We cannot let this hive fall! It is a symbol of mankind's defiance! With respect, Chaplain—'

'Enough,' Yarrick said. 'Peace, Brother-Captain Amaras. Grimaldus speaks with wisdom.'

Grimaldus inclined his head in thanks.

'I will not be silenced by a mortal,' Amaras growled, but the fight was gone from him. Yarrick - the thin, ancient commissar - just stared at the Astartes captain. After several moments, Amaras looked back to the hololithic topography around the hive. Yarrick turned back to the gathered officers, his one human eye stern and his augmetic one whirring in its socket as it refocussed on the faces before him.

'Hades will not survive the first week,' he said again, this time shaking his

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